Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Chapter 32: Traitors

I lack the grinding, jagging words to tell
            about this dismal hole, this evil pit,
            this Hell to which the world’s vast weight slopes down.      3

The language other people use in fun,
            or soothe a baby with, or call their Mum
            is unfit to describe the bitter fear                                            6

and chilling numbness of that dreadful state.
            I pray to all the mistresses of art –
            muses who helped the poet Amphion                                                9

make music that raised high the Theban wall –
            please guide me still! Do not depart until
            I have described the steep path into light.                              12

But can good rhyme describe those ugly souls
            whose strongest doings were propelled by spite?
            Better for them had they been goats or sheep.                       15

Arriving at the bottom of this well
            I edged down backward from the giant’s feet
            then Virgil said, “Mind your own feet because                      18

you’re very liable to kick a head.”
            I turned and saw a lake of ice so clear,
            so solid that we seemed to walk on glass.                              21

Neither the Danube river nor the Don
            in Austria and distant Russia
            on coldest winter nights freeze down as thick                        24

as did that lake. A granite mountain flung
upon the edge would not have made it creak.
Like frogs in ponds with their heads out, I saw                     27

agonized souls ice-bound up to their necks,
            teeth chattering as loudly in their jaws
as does the clattering of a stork’s beak,                                  30

and all these heads were bent toward the ice.
            A pair so-face-to-face their hair was mixed
            were at my feet. “What brought you here,” I said.                 33

They lifted up their heads to see my face,
            opening eyes from which tears spilled and froze,
            instantly blinding them. Enraged, like goats,                          36

each banged the other with his brow until
            a nearby head, earless from frostbite, cried
            “What right have you to pester us like this?                          39

If you must know, these twins were sons and heirs
            of Alberti, Lord of Bisenzio, who left
            half of that pleasant valley to each one.                                 42

Each tried to gain the whole by fratricide.
            All of us in this zone have sinned like Cain,
            killing our kin. For this we are iced in.                                    45

Focachia upon my right once slew 
            his uncle. See in front, blocking my view,
            Mascheroni, his nephew’s murderer                                      48

(known to you, being a Florentine) and
            lastly, to end your queries, know that I
Camicio de Pazzi, have betrayed                                            51
to death a cousin, so I now await
            Carlino, another cursed Pazzi who                                        
will make me seem more sweet by being worse.”                   54

As Virgil led me on I had to see
a thousand heads with teeth in snarling grins.                       
            Iced puddles since that time, however wee,                           57

terrify me. Through that eternal chill
            I was led shivering toward one point –                                  
the universal centre where is not,                                           60

a lower thing, nor can there ever be.
            Upon the way, by chance or fate’s decree
            I kicked a face. Weeping, it loudly said,                                 63

“Why hurt me more? Is this revenge because
            on Montaperti’s battlefield, through me,
            the side you hate won a great victory?”                                 66

“Master,” I begged, “please wait. This man must clear
            a doubt I have, then we’ll walk very fast.”
            My leader paused. To he who still complained                     69

I said, “Give me your name.” He answered, “No.
            Why give my name to one who kicks like you?”
            “I am alive,” said I, “so to win fame                                       72

tell me your name.” Said he, “I want the opposite –
            I crave oblivion. Please go away.”
            Gripping his scalp I said, “Your name! Or else                      75

your head will lose its hair.” “Aye, strip me bald,”
            said he, “but I won’t tell.” I ripped off tufts,
            he howled till I heard someone cry, “Bocca,                          78

what in Hell’s wrong? Do your head’s clicking teeth
            so madden that you, dog-like, bark instead?”
            Releasing him I said, “Bocca, shut up!                                   81
 Now I’ll tell Italy the name and fate
            of one who is a traitor to the state
            that nourished him.” He snarled, “Say what you like,           84

but also tell the name of he who gave
            you mine – he is Buoso, paid by France
            when France invaded us. If any ask                                        87

who else is cooling here – Beccheria,
            who betrayed Florence too; and further on,
            Gianni della Soldanier,                                                            90

a Whig like me who joined the Tory crew;
            and Ganelon, traitor to Charlemagne;
            and Tribaldello – when Faenza slept,                               93

he crept to let in Whigs who massacred
the Tory refugees.” So we left him,
garrulously, furiously raving                                          96

against his kind. Later we came on two,
           frozen neck deep in the same icy hole 
            with he behind capping his neighbours head                        99

and chewing it where the brain joins the neck
            as starving men bite bread. I said, “You hate
            the man you eat. Tell me your name, and his,                        100

and cause of this. If it be sufficient,
            when I return to life on earth again,
            trust me to justify the pain it gives                                     103

while the grand poem of my journey lives."  








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